LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington believes Super League’s stunning Dacia World Club Series success has potentially unnerved holders Australia ahead of the World Cup later this year.
Wigan Warriors defeated NRL champions Cronulla Sharks 22-6 to lift the World Club Challenge on Sunday less than 24 hours after Warrington Wolves beat Brisbane Broncos 27-18.
Winning the series 2-0 was a massive fillip for Super League given it lost 3-0 in each of the competition’s first two years.
However, Hetherington – a long-time advocate of expanding the world club game – feels it could also work wonders for the England team, too.
The national side has not won a major tournament since Great Britain lifted the 1972 World Cup but he pointed to some pertinent post-match comments from Cronulla captain Paul Gallen, the veteran New South Wales State of Origin skipper and ex-Australia Test forward.
“Paul Gallen made a very telling statement up in the director’s room after Sunday’s game,” said Hetherington.
“He said he was brought up on an understanding that English teams would compete and challenge at the same level as them for 60 minutes but then they’d always get them in that last 20.
“However, he added that they’d got a real shock here as Wigan didn’t tire and they just kept on coming so it ended up being the other way around.
“It’s a terrific boost for the England team hearing that.
“It’s particularly pleasing, too, that Warrington played a far better brand of rugby than Brisbane.
“They were much more adventurous and got their rewards with a pretty comprehensive victory.
“Wigan and Cronulla both played really good games, too, Cronulla producing a good brand; they threw it around and played rugby, making some mistakes admittedly, but Wigan’s defence was excellent.
“Yet there was no question either regarding the fitness levels of either the Warrington or Wigan players.
“They were worthy winners and it is a real confidence boost for all our sides – and England,” said the Leeds chief.
After years of strife against their antipodean rivals, it signalled not only a welcome relief but genuine hope for the future.
Indeed, Hetherington was quick to underline just how important the World Club Series success was and is on a wider scale.
“These are the most significant results in the last 20 years of the World Club Challenge competition,” he said.
“Because, although we’ve won it three times at Leeds, Saints have won it twice and Wigan now on four occasions, there’s never been back-to-back results like this over one weekend.
“That manner in which Wigan and Warrington won, too, was very impressive, really significant for the competition and not least for Super League and rugby league in England.
“They were two terrific games, two really good occasions and two outstanding results.”
As well as those previous whitewashes, no British side had actually lifted the World Club Challenge since Hetherington’s own Leeds team beat Manly in 2012.
It is fair to say, if the hosts had not prospered, the enlarged concept could have been on its knees given many NRL sides had already lost interest, including Melbourne Storm who refused to take up their place to face Challenge Cup winners Hull FC.
However, Super League produced when it mattered most to illustrate the quality and potential of British sides.
He added: “These two results do really show there’s a future for a meaningful competition between Super League and NRL clubs.
“It’s up to our executive and the NRL to resume dialogue now and see how it can be developed.
“Some of the NRL clubs have been supportive, none more so than Brisbane Broncos, but there has not been the leadership from the NRL you would like to see.”